City Council urges voters to get information on May 1 bond issues; recognizes firefighter

LeAnda Staebner
Stephenville Empire-Tribune
Lt. Monty Parker of the Stephenville Fire Department, left, is the newest member of Texas Task Force 2, an elite search-and-rescue team that includes 200 members from more than 20 agencies across the state. Here he is congratulated by Fire Chief Jimmy Chew at Tuesday's city council meeting.
Mayor Doug Svien, center, presents proclamations in honor of National Therapy Animal Day to Jennifer Yeager, left, with PAWS for Nursing at Tarleton State University and Lyndi Hannah, founder of Annie's Therapeutic Companions.

The Stephenville City Council met in regular session Tuesday with some recognitions, project updates and encouragement for voters to become informed about the upcoming bond election set for May 1.

Fire Chief Jimmy Chew announced that one of Stephenville's own has been named to the state Urban Search and Rescue Team.

Lt. Monty Parker is the newest member of Texas Task Force 2, which Chew said was originally started in Dallas and now includes 200 members from more than 20 agencies across the state.

The chief added that these team members are those who respond to natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes, and also to other events such as search-and-rescue efforts during incidents like the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"These are very elite search-and-rescue teams," Chew said, congratulating Parker. "Highly trained individuals."

May 1 bond election

City Manager Allen Barnes noted that several meetings and open house events have been scheduled for the public concerning the upcoming May 1 bond election.

Town Hall Meetings are scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 13, at Ranger College; 6 p.m. Monday, April 19, at City Hall (will be live streamed on the city's Facebook page); and 6 p.m. Monday, April 26, at Ranger College. The meetings will give voters an opportunity to hear about the bond proposals and ask questions of city leaders.

The city has also scheduled facility tours of the recreation center, senior citizens center and Stephenville Public Library for residents to see and become informed of the condition of these facilities. One of the bond issues voters will decide on is the possibility of building a multi-use facility that would house all three of these entities.

The rec center open house is scheduled for 6-8 p.m. Monday, April 12. The senior citizens center open house is scheduled for 6-8 p.m. Thursday, April 15. The Stephenville Public Library open house is scheduled for 6-8 p.m. Thursday, April 22.

Barnes also reminded citizens that early voting for the election is slated for 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 19-23; and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. April 26-27.

In closing comments, Councilman Gerald Cook took the opportunity to thank those responsible for the town halls and open houses and also encourage citizens to become informed and vote on the bond issues.

"I want to thank the city staff for putting that together and putting the information together so that people can be informed and learn," Cook said. "... and to decide for themselves how they're going to vote for the bond election coming up."

Oncor electricity

At the request of Mayor Doug Svien, an ad hoc committee was formed and headed by Councilman Ricky Thurman to communicate with Oncor Electric Delivery, the city's energy provider, concerning issues experienced during the historic mid-February winter storm that struck Texas. The meetings resulted in a report to be presented to the governor's office.

Thurman reported that an initial Zoom meeting was held on Feb. 18 with Oncor Area Manager Pat Ann Wilson.

According to the agenda packet provided for Tuesday's meeting, the committee covered the following topics with Wilson:

• Oncor’s inability to implement rolling outages, leaving citizens without power for up to 84 hours.

• ERCOT’s load shed requests to Oncor as compared to other distributors

• Reporting systems and communication our citizens and emergency management personnel depended on during the outages

• Proper identification of the city’s critical infrastructure

• Perpetual extended outages occurring in the Legends neighborhood

• Extended outages in the 5th/6th street and downtown areas

• Any other areas identified as needing infrastructure upgrades.

Thurman indicated he received Oncor's responses on March 14 with follow-up questions presented on March 19. Oncor's official responses were received on March 26.

– In summary:

• Oncor maintains ERCOT’s load shed requirements prevented them from implementing rolling outages.

• Oncor was not requested by ERCOT to shed a disproportionate share of its load.

• The number of Oncor’s feeders available to rotate prevented them from being able to effectively rotate and maintain a balanced rotation of the load.

• Oncor’s communication systems became overwhelmed.

• Oncor will work with city staff to accurately label critical infrastructure to prevent inadvertent system shut downs that were experience in the 2021 freeze event.

• Despite reports from linemen on the ground, Oncor maintains there is not and was not an infrastructure problem that was discovered during the extended outages in the Legends area during a 2018 ice storm, requested to be upgraded by local Oncor staff but not funded by the corporation. However, Oncor is expediting an upgrade to the infrastructure in that area to be completed prior to summer 2021.

• Despite inaccurate reporting of outage status and expected restoration time for a number of local Oncor customers, Oncor maintains its reporting system is largely accurate

• Oncor states there are no other areas in Stephenville that extended outages were caused by infrastructure issues.

• Oncor did not address extended outages related to the 5th/6th street area, which were reported to city staff and mentioned in both the initial questions and follow-up questions.

Additional details from the report can be found on the city's website under agenda packet for the April 6 regular city council meeting at this link: stephenvilletx.gov/meetings

Financial reports

City Finance Manager Monica Harris was on hand to give an updated look at the city's financial situation. Harris said, overall, the city's financial outlook is positive.

"Some of the financial indicators are high and some are low, but overall .... it's an overall positive outcome," Harris said.

• Property taxes: The city received $53,000 in property taxes in February, resulting in $133,000 or a 2.15% increase over funds collected through February 2020. The $6.33 million collected fiscal year to date is 95.18% of budget, which is slightly less than the 96.35% anticipated.

• Sales tax: The city received $944,000 in sales tax in February, resulting in $318,000 or 50.67% more than the funds collected in February 2020.

• HOT Funds: Lodging establishments have reported $150,000 in Hotel Occupancy Taxes through February, as compared to $158,000 through February of 2020.

When asked about hotel occupancy in the city, Harris said while HOT revenue is down slightly over last year, it is improving.

"I don't think we are quite where we were pre-COVID, but it's getting better, yes," she said. 

• Revenue (Budgetary comparison): The target budget for operating revenue is $14.80 million. The city received $14.92 million in revenue fiscal year to date, resulting in $127,000 over the target budget due to sales taxes and service charges.

• Expenditures (Budgetary comparison): The target budget for operating expenditures is $8.8 million. The city expended $8.3 million fiscal year to date resulting in $522,000 under the target budget.

National Therapy Animal Day

Jennifer Yeager with PAWS for Nursing at Tarleton State University and Lyndi Hannah, founder of Annie's Therapeutic Companions were on hand with their specially trained canines in honor of National Therapy Animal Day, which is held nationally on April 30.

Mayor Svien read and issued a proclamation in honor of the occasion.

Stop the Silence

Jennifer Thurman with Erath County Juvenile Probation was on hand to inform the council about the upcoming Stop the Silence event, of which she is one of the coordinators.

"We are here working to combat violence crimes within our community," she said. "Specifically child abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence."

A Stop the Silence event is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 20, at Optimist Jaycee Park. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/ErathStoptheSilence/

In recognition of the event and National Crime Victim's Rights Week, which is April 18-24, Mayor Svien read and presented a proclamation to Thurman.